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Sagebrush Heart: Sagebrush Landscape of Elko County, Nevada

Sagebrush Heart: Sagebrush Landscape of Elko County, Nevada

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Sagebrush Heart: Sagebrush Landscape of Elko County, Nevada

166 pages
2 heures
Dec 12, 2012


Sagebrush Heart describes the sagebrush landscape and the problems faced by Elko County in protecting and rehabilitating this landscape. It is written for the people who have sagebrush in their peripheral vision, readers who either live in, or travel through, this distinctive landscape. The book begins in the past by describing this landscape and its natural history, including highly adapted plants and animals, native peoples and geology. It turns to the present to describe the current conditions, much of it based on the decline of sagebrush and those animals dependent on sagebrush. It depicts the increase in cheatgrass and the changes in range fires. The book looks to the future as it describes the hopes, new ideas, and collaborative efforts of federal agencies, ranchers, miners and local groups to save this fragile ecosystem.
Carefully researched facts are checked by experts in the particular subject. The writing is positive, with no desire to bash anyone or assign blame. It focuses on successes rather than failures. Its central message is the sagebrush steppe and the Nevada people addressing its ecological problems.

Dec 12, 2012

À propos de l'auteur

Larry Hyslop lives in Elko, Nevada, where he contributes the “Nature Notes” weekly column to the Elko Daily Free Press. He travels extensively around the West, visiting national Parks. Larry has written nature descriptions covering the landscapes of national parks, along with guides to the Ruby Mountains and Elko area. He worked with Charles Greenhaw to develop guides to the California Trail through Northeastern Nevada. Grayjaypress.com

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Sagebrush Heart - Larry Hyslop

Sagebrush Heart

Sagebrush Landscape of Elko County, Nevada

Larry Hyslop

Gray Jay Press

Elko, NV

Copyright 2009, Gray Jay Press

All Rights Reserved. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part by any means without the written permission of the publisher, with the exception of brief passages embodied in critical articles and reviews.

All photos and maps, unless otherwise noted, are by Larry Hyslop.

For ordering information, contact:

Gray Jay Press

2033 High Noon Dr.

Elko, NV 89801


Discover other titles by Larry Hyslop at Smashwords.com

Discover print copies at grayjaypress.com

Cover photo: Sagebrush of Ruby Valley

Back cover photo: Cheatgrass and burned bitterbrush

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy.

For Blacky and Eddie, they would have enjoyed these back roads.

Table of Contents


Elko County

This Land in Earlier Times

Its Sagebrush Heart

What is Wrong with Great Basin Streams?

The Newe Living on this Land

Sage-grouse and Sagebrush

Pronghorn Antelope; Sagebrush Sentinels

Controversial Wild Horses

The Buildup to Today’s Catastrophic Wildfires

Battling Wildfires

Healthy Streams


What Is Working in Elko County

Thoughts on the Future

About the Author



Elko County is a distinctive landscape offering grand vistas. Viewed from a dirt road, its snow-covered mountains carry distinct bands of conifers across steep slopes, framing gray-green valleys covered with sagebrush. Puffy clouds drift across the sky as gray shadows traverse valley floors. Dust devils dance in the distance while wind shivers nearby rabbitbrush.

Such vistas are too often ignored by people speeding across Elko County. Nevada’s sagebrush-dominated landscape often gets no more than a cursory glance, its vast empty spaces are too easily bypassed and ignored.

This book opens up the sagebrush landscape to the casual viewer. It explains how sagebrush flourishes here and how it nurtures Sage-grouse, pronghorn antelope, and wild horses. It describes people supremely adapted to life among sagebrush, the ancestral Western Shoshone.

It starts with the pre-settlement landscape and how they changed with the arrival of white settlers and their livestock. It is a history of the land, rather than the county. Today’s landscape is not an idyllic setting. Huge wildfires ravaged 30-40% of Elko County and thousands of acres of sagebrush habitat have been lost. Large areas have become dominated by cheatgrass.

This book answers the questions of who owns all this land, who works here, and who cares about it. It describes issues facing today’s land managers, focusing on cattle grazing because grazing is the most powerful, planned disturbance applied to this land. Knowledgeable ranchers are using cattle as a powerful tool to improve and rehabilitate land. They work hard to atone for mistakes of past generations and create a sustainable landscape they can pass on to the next generation. Land agency people care about their work and are dedicated to its recovery from the relentless siege of wildfires.

It focuses on the positive. Rather than complain about those ranchers who have not yet changed, it describes Elko County land managers, ranchers, and agency people who are experimenting with new ideas. The people of Elko County display a spirit of accomplishment and people are optimistic about the county lands.

Although mine sites drastically alter the landscape, mining is not covered here since they affect fairly small areas of the vast rangelands of Elko County.

None of these plants, animals, or issues are unique to Elko County but when writing about the immense Western landscape, a book needs scope and I have chosen to limit these pages to the lands I know best, Elko County, Nevada.

The goal of this book is to give readers a better understanding and a better appreciation of this unique landscape. Each chapter ends with a Reference list. It is not a complete list of research sources but the articles, books, and people I found most useful. Much of what I learned did not come from paper, but from the individuals listed in the Thanks section.

Lots of People to Thank

First and foremost, I need to thank Charles Greenhaw for reviewing all of my writings, keeping me on purpose, and reminding me of the basic rules regarding the English language and realities of publication.

Much of my research and writing was conducted during a sabbatical from Great Basin College.

Many people helped with content and review of my writing. They not only offered me scientific sources, but also their personal knowledge of this landscape. Unfortunately, there are too many people to thank separately, so I am forced to list them by profession. To each, I say thank you.

University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Kent McAdoo

Natural Resource Conservation Service Chuck Petersen, Gerry Miller

Northeastern Nevada Stewardship Group Gerry Miller, Leta Collord

Great Basin Ecology, Inc. Gary Back

Bureau of Land Management Pat Coffin, Carol Evans, Bryan Hockett, Ken Wilkinson, Susie Stokke, Bryan Fuell, Bruce Thompson, Carl Sheets, Donna Jewell, Shawna Richardson, Sally Spencer

Nevada Department of Wildlife Larry Gilbertson, Ken Gray

Great Basin College Pete Bagley, Carrie Bruno, Dr. Mike McFarlane, Laurie Walsh

Western Shoshone Gerald Dixon, Felix Ike, Norm Cavanaugh

Sustainable Grazing Coalition Rick and Maggie Orr

Nevada Commission for Preservation of Wild Horses Cathy Barcomb

Local Ranchers Steve Boies, Agee Smith, Dan Gralien, Dr. Boyd Spratling, Jon Griggs, Preston Wright, Bill Gibbs, Mitch Heguy

Editors and readers Charles Greenhaw, Lisa Arkell, Jacques Errecart, Joan Anderson, Janice Collett

Cover Design Jennifer Anderson


Elko County

South of Jiggs

To say nothing is out here is incorrect; to say the desert is stingy with everything except space and light, stone and earth is closer to the truth."

William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways: A Journey into America, 1982.

A World of Dirt Roads

The sheer size of Elko County is daunting, encompassing 17,181 square miles. Such a landscape requires a lot of driving to see only a fraction. Few paved roads exist, only two run north and south, U.S. Highway 93 and State Route 225. Transcontinental I-80 crosses the county from east to west.

The only way to experience Elko County is driving on dirt roads. To qualify as a true experience, the vehicle should generate a high rooster tail of dust that drifts away with the breeze. Only dirt roads allow the traveler to access Nevada’s special beauty and experience such remoteness. Elko County dirt roads demand travelers tell others where they are going and when they will return, just in case. It does not hurt to carry two spare tires, extra gasoline, and plenty of water.

Such a dirt road leaves U.S. Highway 93 about 20 miles north of Wells, heading northeast along Thousand Springs Valley. Named by the 1850s California emigrants for its multitude of springs, they were amazed to find pools of boiling water separated from cold pools by only a few yards.

A large mail box advertises the Winecup Ranch, buildings hidden among distant, tall trees. Jimmy Stewart’s hacienda, once the actor’s retreat, sits on a hill beyond the ranch.

The road passes wet meadows where wisps of steam rise from hot springs. A small band of pronghorn antelope watches my approaching vehicle before turning away to run. Farther along the road, a black-tailed jackrabbit darts across the road and five Sage-grouse fly up from roadside brush. Rock Spring’s pool is full of watercress. Across the road from the spring, a grove of cottonwoods provides a camping spot for cowboys working in the area. A decrepit outhouse, minus a door, is the only man-made improvement.

Thousand Springs Valley Road offers a good opportunity to see why Nevada’s nickname is the Sagebrush State. Elko County is literally the heart of the American sagebrush ecosystem. On a map displaying sagebrush across the western United States, Elko County is the center.

Sagebrush is often maligned and ignored. After driving for miles, drivers tend to everything they pass is sagebrush. They do not realize nearby ground is covered with rabbitbrush, greasewood or bitterbrush. They miss the different species of sagebrush and the diverse plants associated with each species. Many people think sagebrush is worthless, not realizing scientists worry about losing the vast acreages of sagebrush.

Yet it is everywhere, a gray-green blanket flung across the landscape. The narrow dirt road is only a rip in the sagebrush mantle.

The only ragged edge is along the southeastern edge where saltgrass and greasewood dot the lower valleys. Even there, pieces of sagebrush cover wrap nearby mountain slopes. The blanket is looking a bit shabby. Large holes show where 1.5 million acres of sagebrush burned in 2006 and 2007 alone. Towns and mine sites occupy smaller holes.

Who Owns All This Land?

A narrow strip of private ranch property borders Thousand Springs Creek, leaving all the rest of this as public land, owned by everyone and managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). An often quoted fact is that 71% of Elko County is controlled by federal agencies (Riggs, Owens, 2000).

On a county map showing land ownership, most of it is BLM managed land. Two light green blocks show land managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest includes the Ruby Mountains and East Humboldt Range south of Elko and the Jarbidge Mountains and Bull Run Mountains to the north. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages the Ruby Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Ruby Valley. Another 1.5% of county land is sovereign tribal lands, mainly the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.

(Thomas, 2004)

Some people bristle at so much land managed by the federal government but others see it as opportunity. Few other places in the West offer the chance to wander so much land. Hunters, fishermen, campers, OHV riders and back-country road enthusiasts travel these public lands.

The county map shows scattered white blocks of private land, making up 26% of the county. Elko County ranches average 6,220 acres. 116 ranches hold 226 grazing allotments on public land, covering almost all of it. Ranchers run about 155,000 head of livestock on both their public allotments and private land.

Meandering across the middle of

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